The world’s most dangerous group (circa ’77, anyway), The Sex Pistols were hated by the establishment and the majority of the English population. But their fame was a defining point in English pop culture. And they managed to leave a gobby mark, not just on the English music scene, but music globally.
Those familiar with the Pistols will find nothing new on the majority of these discs, having picked the tracks up on any of the band’s thirty-something “best ofs” and compilation albums. Those hoping to find tracks like Silly Thing should look elsewhere. However, it would seem that this set is more about showing the band as an authentic group before they became the cartoon Pistols (see Sid Vicious for an explanation.)
While any hardcore Pistols fan will have heard much of the material in this box set, it is hard not to smile while listening to the fledgling Pistols in practices and demo sessions. The self-perpetuated myth that they couldn’t play is dispelled on the second disc, with Jones, Cook and Matlock providing a continuously solid backdrop for that Rotten voice to ply its grimy trade. Rotten is the jarring death call to the rock’n’roll dinosaurs that were treading the Earth at the time. As he moans “fuck it’s awful,” you realise you’re listening to the voice that defined the punk scene at the time, and continues to be a dominant voice today. While they’re taking the rock classics to the blender, they’re creating songs of their own that are lodged firmly within the modern day popular musical cannon. How times have changed.
The third CD contains the Screen on The Green gig in 1976, just before the Pistols became the most sought-after band in England. It’s an interesting set, historically speaking, but the sound quality is easily bettered by a lot of audience-recorded bootlegs made in the last few years. The important thing of course is not how it sounds, but the attitude. If punk was about individualism, questioning social mores, and the nihilism of ‘No Future’, then on these terms, it is a thrilling gig.
This set reminds you exactly what punk was about and lays testimony to the fact that youth culture could be exciting and dangerous. Completists could feel like they’ve been cheated, but as a starting point this collection is essential. Especially if you think Blink 182 or Sum 41 are the epitomes of punk. Get off your arse!